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Opinion: Capture, containment, and the Canary: the end of foreign policy dissent by the UK’s libertarian left

Phil Bevin is a writer, researcher and housing campaigner. This piece picks up on theme’s raised in other articles about developments in the modern British left and relations between this Left and imperialism.

Canaries in the coal mine

Some of my friends on Twitter have raised concerns over the coverage of the coup against Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan by the left-wing news site, the Canary, so I decided to explore the matter. As usual, instead of sending me into the cloudless, sunlit skies of boundless hope and optimism, my research led me into a deep cavern to unearth disturbing discoveries.

Imran Khan’s ouster

To those who don’t already know, Imran Khan was deposed as Prime Minister of Pakistan following what was essentially a constitutional palace coup. Khan was removed from power after he lost the support of his party’s coalition partner and the backing of the country’s military. According to Al-Jazeera, a factor was the military’s concern that Khan would attempt to shift Pakistan’s alignment away from the United States and instead seek stronger ties with Russia and China:

“In October, simmering civil-military tensions exploded in public view when Khan tried to retain Lieutenant-General Faiz Hameed as the military spy chief, rejecting the nominee of army chief General Qamar Bajwa.

General Bajwa’s nominee, Lieutenant-General Nadeem Anjum, was eventually appointed as the new director general of Inter-Services Intelligence, but the weeks-long standoff was bruising and ominous.

General Bajwa’s second term as army chief will end in November, with General Hameed one of the senior-most generals eligible to replace him. The Pakistani prime minister appoints the army chief.

Extraordinary, too, was Khan’s attempt to recast ties with the US, Pakistan’s largest trading partner and a fractious ally that the military has sought to maintain as an important partner.

In February, in pursuit of what Khan described as a neutral foreign policy, Khan travelled to Russia seeking trade deals on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He left with only a handshake from Russian President Vladimir Putin hours after the attack began on February 24.

While the Pakistani military backed Khan’s Moscow trip, differences intensified after Khan made a high-stakes domestic pivot. Faced with defeat in the no-confidence vote in parliament, Khan alleged a US-led plot to remove him as punishment for his Russia trip and neutral foreign policy.

As evidence of the plot, Khan waved a letter in a public rally in Islamabad on March 27, claiming the US had delivered a diplomatic warning to Pakistan to remove him as prime minister.

The diplomatic missive, the alleged US threat, and Khan’s claim that the no-confidence was part of a US-led conspiracy roiled Pakistani politics and civil-military relations.”

Allegedly, the message came from Donald Lu. Lu serves in the US State Department as the Assistant Secretary of State for South East Asia. He would be the relevant person to send such a message and so Imran Khan’s claim is certainly plausible.

Containing China

Like Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, and Turkey, Pakistan sits on the proposed route of China’s great global economic plan, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China is the United States’ peer competitor. The successful rollout of the BRI is not something the United States can afford if the Anglo-American empire is to retain its dominance, and its oligarchs maintain their share of the world’s wealth.

According to Mint Press News:

“Pakistan plays a leading role in China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative, thanks to the Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea. The new port is already a major trading hub and is in the process of being vastly expanded. This process is set to make it one of the most important locations for world trade. Pakistan will soon be connected to western China via rail, creating a new Silk Road and a land route from East to West Asia, cutting delivery times and allowing Chinese ships to avoid the Straits of Malacca and the increasingly contested South China Sea. […]

The ousted prime minister also provoked Washington’s ire by pursuing cordial relations with Russia. Pakistan refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, let alone help the U.S. impose sanctions on Moscow.

As we have seen time and again in countries along the BRI route, if the Anglo-American Empire cannot control the government, it will resort to destruction. To this end, it creates “arcs of instability” through facilitating civil wars that make these regions ungovernable for anyone and too unstable to develop economically. Thus, containing China means, in practice, the ruination of large parts of the world in a policy of scorching the earth as the empire retreats.

The UK’s decision to send depleted uranium laced weapons to Ukraine, the stealing of Afghan wealth and theft of Syria’s oil reserves in the country’s north-east can all be seen in this context. It is not at all unreasonable to suggest that the United States is attempting to pull off a similar manoeuvre with Khan’s ouster in Pakistan. Clearly, the United States had considerable motivation for pressuring Pakistan into removing Khan from office, and so Khan’s story of US complicity is a plausible claim.

As Mint Press News again explains, besides Khan’s own claims, there is also evidence to suggest that the US did intervene:

“Despite the official denials, there is some evidence that the United States may have played a role in the proceedings. First Lu, the man at the center of the affair, has kept relatively silent. But when Indian newspaper The Hindustan Times directly asked him to confirm or deny the cable’s authenticity, giving him an opportunity to wash his hands of responsibility, Lu responded simply by saying, “We are following developments in Pakistan and we respect and support Pakistan’s constitutional process and the rule of law” – an answer that is far from a denial and could be interpreted as giving his blessing to proceedings.

“Perhaps even more damning were remarks made by new Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Responding to allegations that opposition parties, including his Pakistan Muslim League (N), were acting on behalf of Washington in exchange for better diplomatic and economic ties, Sharif appeared to agree. “Beggars can’t be choosers, please understand,” he said. “We have to feed our nation […] we have to send our children to school; we can’t fight with someone, can’t raise slogans against others,” he added.

For its part, the U.S. government immediately endorsed Sharif. Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated the new prime minister on his election, thereby firmly placing Washington on one side of this political battle.”

The Canary didn’t chirp

Given the evidence, which I consider to be persuasive, and the Canary’s supposed role as an adversarial platform of the radical left, it came as a surprise that its recent pieces on the coup against Imran Khan have nothing to say about the apparent interference of the Anglo-American Empire.

We might expect these kinds of omissions from the Anglo-American Empire’s journalistic outriders in the mainstream media. And indeed, it seems that the Canary is now publishing articles on this subject by mainstream journalists. In this instance, the piece is by Turyal Azam Khan, who has previously written for such mainstream media publications as The Diplomat – which partners with US military think tank CSIS, founded by a US admiral & Head of Reagan’s National Security Council – Asia Times, The Express Tribune, and The Nation.

Given Turyal Azam Khan’s links to the journalistic mainstream, it is hardly surprising that he produces an article entirely in line with mainstream talking points, which overlooks suggestions of interference by the United States to focus on allegations against Imran Khan himself.

The piece states that “authorities have since revealed that his arrest is related to corruption allegations”. It also highlights the passage of authoritarian legislation by Khan’s government and allegations that he came to power with the assistance of the military itself, which is almost certainly true, given the dynamics of Pakistan’s politics. Criticism of Khan on these grounds may well be fair, up to a point, but it doesn’t excuse Anglo-American intervention to depose the country’s elected Prime Minister. Nor does it make it legitimate to entirely overlook the role of Anglo-American imperialism in Imran Khan’s ouster.

Meanwhile Imran Khan is raising serious concerns over emerging “state brutality”, “under the garb of identifying arsonists, fascist tactics have been employed by these criminals in power to silence & oppress PTI workers & supporters.”  If he wasn’t opposed to the interests of the military leadership at the start of his Premiership, it seems he is now.

Moreover, right now, Khan is making a stand for Pakistan’s relative independence from Anglo American coercion and the sensible anti-imperialist stance is, in my view, to support him.

Turkey’s elections

The Canary’s questionable coverage of foreign policy matters is not limited to the coup against Imran Khan. Interestingly, the Canary’s coverage of the current elections in Turkey is particularly similar to the treatment of the subject by Plan C, a leftist anarchist group that has previously sent members to assist with the US-backed illegal occupation of north-eastern Syria’s oil deposits by the SDF/YPG Kurdish militias.

For example, an article by Tom Anderson, who claims to have been part of “an international election monitoring delegation, called for by the [SDF supporting] People’s Democratic Party (HDP)” waxes lyrical about the Kurdish opposition groups supporting the SDF occupation of north-eastern Syria:

“The radical politics of the Kurdish Freedom Movement has inspired both the YSP and HDP. For them, electoral success has never been the ultimate goal. Instead, it is a steppingstone on the path to creating radical people-centred democracy across Kurdistan, and across Turkey.”

Similarly, an article by Eliza Egret, explains that “the truly democratic, pro-Kurdish HDP ran under the new banner Ye?il Sol Parti (Green Left Party) because it was expecting to be criminalised by the Turkish state. It won 61 seats, but claims that it should have won more.”

Not at all surprisingly, both authors also appear to be Plan C activists. Incidentally, they have also published an account of the situation in Syria for the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) financed OpenDemocracy website.

Readers of my previous article regarding Turkey’s elections may have been struck by the closeness of the little-known anarchist group Plan C, which backs and has even lent practical support to the US supported occupation of north-eastern Syria, to various leftist groups in the UK. Several of these groups and publications, including the Canary, have been pushing foreign policy analyses that happen to align with the interests of the Anglo-American Empire. Adding to this very concerning trend, is that Plan C activists have also collaborated with Bellingcat.

Plan C and Bellingcat

Bellingcat – the home of online investigations – describes itself as “an independent investigative collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists brought together by a passion for open-source research.” They have published investigations into the Skripal affair, the shooting down of MH17 over eastern Ukraine and “Russia’s Assault on Daily Life in Ukraine”.

However, there is another side to Bellingcat. It has been identified as a publisher of material from British Military Officer Chris Donnelly’s Integrity Initiative (II).

According to Wikispooks, the Encyclopaedia of Deep Politics, The Integrity Initiative (II) “is an organ of the UK Deep state, controlled through the Institute for Statecraft.”

The integrity Initiative paid for articles by a Bellingcat journalist and ( Bellingcat was also included in the details of the EXPOSE Network, a proposal for a partnership between several organisations, including Chris Donnelly’s Institute for Satecraft.

According to the ultimately unsuccessful proposal:

“Bringing together organisations including Zinc Network, the Institute for Statecraft, Aktis Strategy, Bellingcat, DFR Lab, the Media Diversity Institute, Toro Risk Solutions and Ecorys, our Consortium combines recognised market leaders in understanding, monitoring, and countering Kremlin-backed disinformation… This ecosystem of credible voices will continue to grow, exposing the actors and networks behind Kremlin-backed disinformation, reducing unwitting multipliers of disinformation, and building resilience amongst key target audiences across Europe.”

In December 2022, long after Bellingcat’s Integrity Initiative links had been exposed, Plan C activists Sam Moore and Alex Roberts interviewed Bellingcat author Michael Colborne for a podcast to discuss “far right monitoring, Azov, Russian far rights and much more!”

Rather than a decision approved of by Plan C itself, the decision by Sam Moore and Alex Roberts to collaborate with an intelligence linked organisation in a podcast may have been an accident of personal error. However, this interpretation is thrown into doubt by the fact that the official Twitter accounts of both Plan C and Bellingcat retweeted the podcast.

Sounding the alarm

Plan C has now been linked to both the US backed SDF occupation of north-eastern Syria and Integrity Initiative Partner Bellingcat. Meanwhile, Plan C activists are writing articles for leftist publications, including the Canary, which are publishing content that serves the interests of Anglo-American imperialism, as the Empire seeks to contain China within a destructive arc of instability. Just as importantly, given the similarity in content and themes across left media and the repeated appearances of names associated with Plan C, it seems that I have stumbled upon a network – A Plan C “tendency” of foreign policy analysis operating throughout the UK left.

There is also, I’m afraid, quite a bit more to discover about the links between the British left and the Integrity Initiative. Not long ago, I raised my concerns over a possible future in which British left would be all but captured by the interests and ideology of Anglo-American imperialism. I was too naïve. I think this “future” may be now.

I contacted the Canary and Plan C for comment. Plan C did not respond. The Canary declined to comment.

2 thoughts on “Opinion: Capture, containment, and the Canary: the end of foreign policy dissent by the UK’s libertarian left

  1. Brilliant article!

    Imran Khan will always be remembered in history for his brave decision making and stance.

    We need a multi-polar world to come into existence. Pakistan’s survival depends on it. People around the world with sound intellect understand this to the fullest.

    We the sincere want a world where the rule of law is not violate by the corrupted elite or juntas. Where narratives are shared on the basis of fairness and equal terms and not sidetracked. Where truth seekers are not silenced or cancelled to speak up.

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